The Ohio State baseball team was struggling near the midseason mark last year to find consistent success in Big Ten conference play. Before playing Purdue from April 29 to May 1, the team was sitting at 5-7 against conference opponents and seemed to be treading water.
A three-game sweep on the road against the Boilermakers helped turn the tide for the Buckeyes’ season, as they finished 15-9 in Big Ten games and wound up winning the tournament.
With the team winless in conference play after getting swept by Minnesota, coach Greg Beals and the Buckeyes (10-14, 0-3) are hoping to get back on track this season by again finding success against Purdue to get back on track.
“Looking forward to Purdue this week. Yeah, that was absolutely a turning point in our season last year,” Beals said. “We went there and we swept the series, and we’d certainly love to do that again this weekend. But I think it’s critical that we go one game at a time and attack it one game at a time and take care of the things that are in the moment.”
Redshirt senior starting pitcher Jake Post watched last year’s team struggle early before finding success against Purdue and believes that all it takes is one strong weekend to help propel the team.
“Last year at this time, we kind of had it tough. We were kind of battling out, seeing what pieces fit where,” Post said. “In reality, that was the first Big Ten weekend of the year. We got time to adjust, and I think this weekend against an opponent like Purdue would be a good spark for us.”
Sitting at 13-10 on the season and 1-2 in the Big Ten, the Boilermakers have not been able to find consistency to this point in their season. They dropped their last two games against Iowa in their conference opener, coming right on the heels of a six-game winning streak.
The struggles against Iowa can be summed up in offensive inefficiency over their three games, combining for just five runs and 22 hits.
However, despite the anemic offense this past weekend, the Purdue bats have been able to reach base with relative frequency in 2017. Four hitters in their everyday lineup are batting over .300 and five of them have slugging percentages over .500.
One such batter who has been a force in the team’s lineup is sophomore catcher Nick Dalesandro. The second-year backstop is tied for second on his team in home runs with two, and with the second-highest batting average at .360. He also leads the team in slugging average at .506, and is a perfect eight-for-eight in stolen bases.
The team’s ability to make consistent contact even in two-strike counts stands out to Beals, but he has a strategy for helping his team succeed against the Boilermakers’ hitters.
“We’ve got to make sure that we are ahead in the count; that we’re throwing a bunch of strikes, we’re pitching at the bottom of the strike zone and go ahead and pitch to that contact,” Beals said. “They make contact, let’s go ahead and make quality pitches to the contact, and I think we can get some early outs and pitch very efficiently if we’re able to do that.”
Post hoping to continue building off early season work
In his first season back from Tommy John surgery, Post has been counted on heavily by the Buckeyes. He has been serving as the team’s Friday night starter and recently turned in a steady outing in the team’s Big Ten opener against Minnesota last weekend.
Post lasted six innings and allowed just two runs (one earned) on seven hits and two walks while striking out five.
But Post was not satisfied with his outing and was quick to point out flaws in his performance.
“I wouldn’t grade myself very high last weekend,” Post said. “A bunch of hits scattered, two runs, that’s fine, that’s great, all that stuff, but my first-pitch strike percentage was pretty low. Offspeed, I need to get that offspeed strike percentage up. So there’s definitely a lot of room for me to improve.”
He believes that the key to success will be to start commanding the strike zone against both left and right-handed hitters and will need to be able to effectively mix in his offspeed pitches.
“From a pitching point of view, it’s just executing fastballs for me,” Post said. “Commanding the ball outside, commanding the ball inside to both lefties and righties. If you can manipulate the zone a little bit, work in, work out, then you can mix in an offspeed, it’s fine.”
Key pitchers remain out for Purdue series
For the second straight weekend, the Buckeye pitching staff will be without redshirt junior pitchers Adam Niemeyer and Kyle Michalik.
Beals confirmed on Wednesday that both pitchers are still rehabbing through their respective injuries and will not be available to pitch for his team.
“They are both out. They will not be available for the weekend series,” Beals said. “They’re both progressing. They’re slow progressions. (Michalik’s) an ankle, so he’s got to post on that ankle and plant and push off. It’s getting better, but it’s not ready to go full speed. Niemeyer has a little tendonitis in the elbow. Tendonitis is a nagging thing. Again, getting better, but not ready to go full blast.”
Last weekend, the team had a rotation set that consisted of Post starting on Friday and sophomore pitchers Connor Curlis and Ryan Feltner starting Games 2 and 3 on Saturday’s doubleheader, respectively.
The series against Purdue gets started on Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Bill Davis Stadium. Saturday’s game will start at 6 p.m. and Sunday’s will begin at 1 p.m.